Zuko knelt on the beach, finding it insanely difficult to breathe. His throat was clear and his lungs were wanting, but it seemed no breath would come. His eyes looked out on the water, and his fingers dug trenches in the sand. He stared out to sea, but his ears were focused on the sound of the three figures approaching from his rear left flank. Their footsteps crashed carelessly through the underbrush and the leaves, their voices carrying even farther as they reached the end of the trees and broke out into the sun. The mirage created by the smoke in the distance made Zuko's eyes ache as he stared forward.
"Do you think that prince guy was on the ship too?"
"Who knows? Good riddance if he was."
"Sokka, you shouldn't wish people dead."
"Aang, I sincerely wish every fire nation soldier would drop dead this very moment. That jerk-faced prince most of---"
"Oh my god, he's right there!"
"He's right there!"
"Hey you! You…you're…wait, uh, yeah! You're our prisoner now!"
"Are you kidding, Sokka? We can't take prisoners!"
"We definitely can't take him prisoner! He'll just turn around and try to capture me!"
"Well he doesn't have any back up anymore, does he? I bet we could take him."
It was too much. Hearing their foolish blathering drivel, knowing they stood on the beach just feet behind him, looking out on the same smoking, sinking wreck he looked out at. Hearing them discuss the ruin of his ship and the death of the men he'd spent two years traveling with as if it were merely something to do to pass the time. Hearing them discuss the death of his uncle, the greatest general in the Fire Nation, as if it were a lucky break.
Zuko got to his feet, and turned around.
The three children he'd chased for months stared back at him, their mouths suddenly shut up tight as clams.
"Um…we're not the ones who destroyed your ship!" the taller boy, the water brat, blurted, mumbling and rushing the words. The three collectively took a step back. Zuko stared at them flatly.
"Uh...run!" the Avatar shouted, and the three took off into the forest again. Zuko watched them go, not noticing—or perhaps just not caring—that the air around him had begun to crackle.